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A Requiem for the Renewables Dream


Tomorrow President Obama will give a speech outlining a handful of green initiatives that will shape the environmental legacy of his presidency. But in the run up to the speech, we’re seeing more signs of a renewables debate whose tone has turned somber since Obama’s first term. There hasn’t been much in the way of good news for green energy recently. Last week, Siemens shuttered its solar division, and much of Europe is keen on walking back solar and wind subsidies while cheap shale energy booms. And as the FT reports, this may be only the tip of the iceberg:

Built up on a tide of public and political support for action on climate change, the industry is now seeing the tide going out. Competitiveness is the watchword of the moment. Recession and unemployment are the crises which require attention. Mr Cameron, once the greenest of politicians (remember the huskies) has still to deliver his first speech on climate change as Prime Minister.

President Obama, if anything an even more convinced believer when elected in 2008, is finally focusing on the issue of power station emissions but seems no more likely to defeat the coal lobby than to deliver gun control.

We’re at a very different place in the renewables debate than we were in 2008, when Obama campaigned on promises of a robust green economy and millions of green jobs that never appeared. Since then, renewables have failed to develop to the point that they can compete on their own merits with fossil fuels, and a global financial crisis has left many countries unwilling to continue propping up green energy.

Even more problematic for greens: we have less confidence in our grasp of climate change now than we did five years ago. Scientists are struggling to explain why global surface temperatures haven’t risen as predicted over the past decade or so. Some speculate that the extra heat is being “stored” in the deep oceans. The more we study our climate, the more we realize how intricate it really is. Climate models were the greens’ best friend in the 2000s because they gave policymakers scary-looking charts to justify a draconian policy agenda. Their fallibility removes any incentive there might have been to push through technologies like solar and wind energy, insofar as they are too expensive and noncompetitive with the alternatives.

Let’s hope Obama’s speech tomorrow recognizes the new discussion the world is having about the environment.

[Broken solar panel image courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • JeffWeimer

    “Let’s hope Obama’s speech tomorrow recognizes the new discussion the world is having about the environment.”

    I doubt it. He doesn’t seem to be very light on his feet, policy-wise.

  • JDogg Snook

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if Obama’s lasting green legacy was the dramatic expansion of domestic oil and gas production during his presidency? Heh.

  • gunsmithkat

    I rather suspect Obama will take the Al Gore and Michael Mann viewpoint rather than the rational scientific view, which requires a healthy dose of skepticism.

  • Tom Sramek Jr

    Sooner or later, fossil fuels are going to run out–even if in the short or medium-term there is an increase from shale and other sources. All we need is $150 barrels of oil and gas prices at $5 a gallon, and solar will be in again.

    • rheddles

      Maybe, maybe not. The nice thing about a free market is that people will use whatever is most efficient.

  • lukelea

    Forget climate change. These green initiatives which are going nowhere anyway. That chapter is over. The big issue right now is immigration. Here are a couple of recent posts from Steve Sailer’s blog that show why he is one of the best journalists in America (and easily the most fearless):

  • stan brown

    The first step on the path to wisdom is the recognition of our own ignorance. Unfortunately, that which Obama is most ignorant of is his own ignorance. The last thing he will ever do is acknowledge any scientific uncertainty.

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